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Original Issue

Second Chance

With an eye toward the NFL, Ryan Perrilloux is trying to restore his reputation at remote Jacksonville State

Ryan Perrilloux can't take his eyes off Colt McCoy. Perrilloux, the former LSU quarterback who is a senior at Division I-AA Jacksonville (Ala.) State, is sitting in a booth at Strut's, a burger joint in this sleepy town of 8,400 in the Appalachian foothills. On a mounted TV, highlights of McCoy and the Texas Longhorns are playing, which takes Perrilloux back in time. "I almost went to Texas, and maybe my life would have turned out differently if I had," he says. "But now I'm here in Jacksonville, rebuilding my reputation and trying to show the NFL that I have tools to make it at that level."

Perrilloux, the 2004 USA Today offensive player of the year at East St. John's High in Reserve, La., certainly has the tools. He leads all divisions in passing efficiency (185.6), and last Saturday against Eastern Illinois he had another solid game, completing 16 of 26 passes for 236 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 28--20 loss that dropped the Gamecocks to 4--3. "I coached Bo Jackson at Auburn, and Ryan is the same caliber athlete as Bo was," says Jacksonville coach Jack Crowe. "He's straightening out his life here, and almost every NFL team has sent a scout to see him."

Projected as a mid-round pick by most NFL scouts, the 6'3", 220-pound Perrilloux took a winding path to Jacksonville. After changing his commitment and signing with LSU at the 11th hour in 2005, he helped the Tigers win the 2007 national championship, earning MVP honors in the SEC title game while filling in for the injured Matt Flynn and leading LSU to a 21--14 win over Tennessee. But that was Perrilloux's lone shining moment on the Bayou. After breaking several team rules—including missing classes and being arrested for using a fake I.D.—the dual-threat quarterback was dismissed from the Tigers in May 2008.

So Perrilloux transferred to Jacksonville State. For the first time, he wasn't surrounded by childhood friends. "I had a lot of negative influences around me at LSU," he says. Though it's hard to find trouble in Jacksonville, where churches outnumber bars 49 to two, Perrilloux hasn't been choirboy perfect; he was suspended for the first game of this season by Crowe for an undisclosed reason. But Perrilloux now meets with a life-management counselor weekly and can usually be found in his apartment with his fiancée, Ralle Banks, whom he has been dating since he was 14, and their one-year-old daughter, Ryleigh.

"Ryan got a fresh start with us, and he's turned out to be a player who's like Steve Young in the way he makes plays with his arm and feet," says Brandt Thomas, a senior defensive lineman. "He does things that you have to see to believe."

Like this: During a recent practice Perrilloux spun away from a defender, ran toward the right sideline, then heaved a tight spiral 65 yards down the left sideline, where he hit his receiver in stride for a touchdown. As Crowe watched, he said to a visitor, "He does this every day. And I mean, every single day."

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ON TARGET In six games with the Gamecocks in '09, Perrilloux has thrown 16 TD passes and only two interceptions.